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UNCORRECTED TRANSCRIPT OF ORAL EVIDENCE
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Andrew Miller (Chair)
Witnesses: Professor Bernard Silverman, Chief Scientific Adviser, Home Office, and Andrew Rennison, Forensic Science Regulator, Home Office, gave evidence.
Q229 Chair : Good morning, gentlemen. Thank you for coming in. For the record, I would be grateful if the two of you introduced yourselves.
Professor Silverman: I am Bernard Silverman. I am the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Home Office.
Andrew Rennison: My name is Andy Rennison. I am the Forensic Science Regulator.
Q230 Chair : Thank you very much. Perhaps both of you would briefly describe the nature of your relationship with the Home Office. How do you influence the processes within the Home Office and to what extent is that independent? That is the starting point.
Professor Silverman: I am the Chief Scientific Adviser. As you know, most Departments have a chief scientific adviser. We are appointed as civil servants. I am full time. It is my full-time job. We are appointed under the code of practice for scientific advisers. I am a member of the group chaired by Sir John Beddington, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, and independence is written into my job description.
I have a threefold role. First of all, I provide scientific advice to the Home Office, Ministers and officials on any scientific matter relevant to our work. Secondly, I head the Home Office science group, which is a group of about 400 people who work in every scientific discipline, including economics, statistics, physical sciences, social sciences and so on; it advises on Home Office policy matters. Thirdly, I am a member of the group of scientific advisers across Government, which gives me an over-arching background to the work that I do. I take my independence extremely seriously and I am expected to be independent. That is the whole point of my job.
Andrew Rennison: I am a public appointee, appointed by the Home Secretary on three-year terms. I am now on my second term, which started in February of this year. I am not employed on civil service terms and conditions; I have my own terms and conditions agreed with the Home Secretary. Similarly, independence is in those terms and conditions. The public appointments process does give you that ability to remain independent, although I remain in touch with Ministers and keep Ministers briefed on what I am doing as a matter of courtesy. But I am left alone to do my work without interference from the Home Office.
Q231 Chair : That sets the scene. Turning, specifically, to the Forensic Science Service, when did both of you hear about the proposed closure? Were you consulted by the Home Office on the decision to wind it down?
Professor Silverman: I was told about the decision a couple of weeks in advance; I am not sure exactly how many. I think it was in late November, or possibly mid-November. But I was sworn to secrecy until the decision was announced. I was informed and John Beddington was as well. I know that. We were told it was going to happen. We were not consulted, as such, in advance of the decision being made, but we were informed. When the decision was made, we had been tipped off in advance.
My understanding, at the time and now, is that the decision was taken on legal and commercial grounds and that it is not within the Chief Scientific Adviser’s remit to advise on those matters. Therefore, I did not see the process as unreasonable.
Andrew Rennison: I was aware a couple of weeks beforehand, but I was not consulted. I am being consulted now.
Q232 Chair : But the decision does have an impact on the quality of science undertaken on behalf of the Home Office. That has yet to feed through because we don’t exactly know the final shape of the service. You must have had some input into giving advice to the Government that, if they are following this commercial path, they ought to take care to protect the integrity of the science.
Professor Silverman: My particular remit here, as I see it, is to look at the scientific research and development underpinning forensic science. The delivery of forensic science itself is not part of my remit, but looking at the research and development side definitely is. I was asked-and was very pleased to be asked-by the Minister to conduct this review, which I am now doing, into research and development in forensic science generally, of which the FSS is just part of a landscape.
Of course, the review is being carried out within the landscape of the decision to run down the FSS. Therefore, given that the FSS is going to be closed in a managed way, how can we make sure we have the best possible research and development in this area? I might add that there are many issues which needed to be looked at and it is clear that the review is going to be worth while in matters which have nothing directly to do with the FSS at all.
Q233 Chair : May your review, potentially, put on hold any idea of a rigid timetable?
Professor Silverman: No. The review is independent of the decision to close the FSS. What I am saying, given that the timetable to close down the FSS has been set and the process is in place, is that that is part of the landscape, just as part of the landscape is that there are such-and-such commercial providers-40 or 50 universities-that do research in this area and so on. There is a whole landscape of research and development and it is about finding ways in which that can operate in the best possible way.
Q234 Stephen Metcalfe: The review of forensic science R and D is not directly related to the Forensic Science Service wind-down. Is that right?
Professor Silverman: Correct.
Q235 Stephen Metcalfe: What prompted the review? What is the time-
Professor Silverman: Do you mean: why is the review taking place now?
Stephen Metcalfe: Yes.
Professor Silverman: The review was commissioned by the Minister. I have been in my job for just over a year now and it was a convenient and appropriate time, I think, to conduct such a review. But the review is not directly connected with the wind-down of the FSS.
Q236 Stephen Metcalfe: Do you think the timing of the two is correct? Do you think that one should have come before the other?
Professor Silverman: I can see where you are going. It is obvious that the review was prompted because of the attention drawn by the closure of the FSS. There is no doubt about that. If you had started a review before the closure was announced, it would have signalled that something was up. I don’t think you could do that. It is right that we should have a landscape within which we can now conduct a review. To conduct a review against a changing landscape would be difficult. For example, I wouldn’t have suggested starting the review before the decision was announced. Once I was told that the decision was going to be made, it made sense not to commission a review until after the decision had been made. Then we have a landscape within which we can see what is going on.
Q237 Stephen Metcalfe: Right. The review is being conducted against the background that it is assumed the FSS will close. Therefore: what are we going to do now to make sure that the bits they are currently undertaking don’t fall through the net?
Professor Silverman: No. That would be looking at it in a very narrow way. We are looking at the entire landscape of research and development in this area, only some of which is carried out by the FSS-there are many other players in the forensic science research landscape-and saying, "Let’s take stock of the whole landscape and see how it can work better."
Q238 Stephen Metcalfe: Is that review imminent?
Professor Silverman: Yes. The date for evidence to be submitted has gone and we are in the middle of writing it. We hope that it will be completed in a few weeks.
Q239 Stephen Metcalfe: Are you yet able to share the main recommendations with us?
Professor Silverman: Yes-or at least the emerging themes. The major themes, which are not yet finalised, are likely to be these. We should realise that there are essentially four or five different groups of players. If we look at academia, first of all, there are many people in universities who are doing research which, at least in their minds, is relevant to forensic science. In every applied science discipline there is a mixture of people who say, "I’m doing all this wonderful work and no one takes any notice of it", and people who say, "I’m doing all this wonderful work, I have this fantastic partnership with such-and-such a company and we are developing it." This happens in every single area of applied science, and forensic science is no exception.
I believe there needs to be more of a concerted, joined-up feel to the forensic science research community. In an interdisciplinary area like this, it is inevitable that people tend to go off and do their own things. I believe that if the community got together and communicated better, or were encouraged to do that, it could punch harder and find commercial opportunities. Therefore, I will be encouraging greater co-ordination between researchers and I will be encouraging them to support their own scientific and professional societies and networks.
There are issues around funding and there are perceptions that HEFCE and the research councils are not interested in forensic science. That, in my view, is not true, although the interest needs to be articulated more clearly. Therefore, I am likely to be making suggestions, for example, about ways in which the impact of forensic science can be measured more explicitly. Within the Research Excellence Framework for universities there will be, of course, as you all know, 20% on impact, and forensic science is an obvious area of potential impact. People working in the area need to be confident that that will be measured. If you read HEFCE’s guidelines, it will be measured but we can make sure it is explicit that this is done. That is another suggestion I will be making.
Work in forensic science crosses all the research councils. Some people say that they get money and others say it is very difficult. Every scientist finds it difficult to get funding. I can’t compare whether it is more difficult in forensic science than in astrophysics but, again, I can suggest ways of encouraging the community to communicate better its needs and wants to research councils.
If we move to the forensic providers, again, if we get the fora right, we can encourage greater communication with researchers, we can investigate what the barriers might be to collaboration and we can look for greater communication of research priorities and findings. That is important.
As to the criminal justice system and the police, if we get the environment right we can get better communication. We have had some helpful discussions with people in the criminal justice system about their wants and needs. For example, it has been put to us that there need to be clear statements on the state of knowledge of scientific advances and techniques, as there are in patent law. I am thinking through ways of dealing with that.
To sum up-I am sorry to speak so long about this-the principle is that if we can find ways of joining up this environment well and of empowering people to communicate with one another, this will be very good for the subject as a whole. It will be good commercially and it will be good for academia. It will be a win-win situation that we should all be hoping for.
Q240 Stephen Metcalfe: When conducting the review were there any surprising outcomes? Did anything take you by surprise, either positively or negatively?
Professor Silverman: I was very impressed by the energy and breadth of research. I am interested that this is an area a lot of universities that do not have a very high profile in research can get into. That is not surprising because you can start working in this area quite easily. That is very good. I was also interested that, of course, all of the commercial providers that wrote to us have their own research programme. It is not true at all that the only research being done is being done by the FSS.
Q241 Stephen Metcalfe: Who wrote or determined the terms of reference against which you conducted your investigation? Why did you not look at the overall size of the market?
Professor Silverman: It is a review of research and development, not a review of the market. I am sorry, that is a tautological question. You are saying: why is it a review of research, not a review of the market? The answer is that I would not see my remit as extending to the operation of the forensic science market. I don’t think that is a scientific question. That is why I would not necessarily have been comfortable had that been included.
Q242 Stephen Metcalfe: And the terms of reference?
Professor Silverman: Who wrote the terms of reference?
Stephen Metcalfe: Yes.
Professor Silverman: The terms of reference were set by James Brokenshire and I was consulted while they were being developed. I did not write the terms of reference but I was consulted. I was involved in the process of developing those terms of reference.
Andrew Rennison: Chair, with your permission, may I add a comment to that very quickly? A very important issue here for me is that of international research as well. The UK does not stand alone in research in forensic science. Crime is global. The science is global. Therefore, the standards and the research need to be global. We are involved in a lot of work to develop international co-operation. The National Institute of Justice in the States has a long list of funded research in forensic science. We now have full access to that and we are joining up with that.
Q243 Chair : And the FSS is held in high regard internationally.
Andrew Rennison: They are held in high regard, yes. But the Australians are doing a lot of research and a lot of research is going on across Europe. We need to link into that as well. This is not just a UK issue.
Q244 David Morris: Professor Silverman, whose responsibility is it to fund forensic science research and development? Could you distinguish the different stages of research and development from basic research to development and validation?
Professor Silverman: Yes. It’s an interesting question because, of course, you could also ask the question about any area of science. If I may, I will make comments about those. The responsibility to fund research in universities, which is where a lot of the basic research is done, falls in several directions. First of all, it is the responsibility of HEFCE, through what used to be called the QR-I am sorry. Are all these acronyms all right for you?
Chair : Yes.
Professor Silverman: It was the responsibility of HEFCE through the QR to fund all research in British universities and then, under the dual support system, also in the research councils. So both HEFCE and the research councils have that responsibility.
Commercial and industrial income in British universities has approximately doubled over the last decade, which is very impressive. That is an example of the way that all sorts of companies and organisations are funding British university research. If you take forensic science, the analogy would be that the responsibility is with commercial companies in the area to be helping fund research, and they certainly do. There are lots of joint research projects there. That is where basic research is funded. It is a mixture. We used to have a dual support system but we have a triple support system because the private sector and industry play their part. That is something that has developed over many years, and particularly in the last decade.
In any area with a commercial market, bringing things to market will be the responsibility of the companies involved. The question of the role of Government in translating from basic research to applied research is one for every area of application. Forensic science is no different. If you look at the way it works in universities and in industry, it is problematic because it is always difficult to identify exactly which areas are interesting but are not going to be very promising and those which are going to find wide application. Experience in many areas shows that you can’t dictate it. What you do is create the best possible environment and then it should work out. There are many examples where it has.
I did some work in a different area about translational research. In fact, internationally, the UK is comparatively very good at this. It may be that the others aren’t even as good as we are.
Q245 David Morris: I understand. What is the overall budget for research and development and how do you prioritise?
Professor Silverman: In forensic science?
David Morris: Yes.
Professor Silverman: I don’t think it is easy to quantify. If you ask different companies they will give you figures. You can get figures from different companies. There is no ring-fenced specific budget from public funds for research in forensic science. What will happen is that there will be projects which have funding from research councils and there will be academics who are funded by HEFCE. Sometimes it is quite difficult to identify exactly what is and is not forensic science, and there is no easy way of quantifying. It’s a good question. I am sorry I can’t provide the answer.
Q246 David Morris: No, it is fine. So there is no budget from the Home Office overall?
Professor Silverman: The Home Office does fund some forensic science work itself. It spends £280,000 on fingerprints, the OSCT spends about £500,000 on conventional explosives and work is being undertaken on nuclear forensics at Aldermaston. We also do work on roadside drugs, prototype drugs and so on. So there is work on drugs, explosives and legal highs. The total figure that I have is £2.338 million. Whether that is spent on forensics as you would understand it is a different thing.
Q247 Chair : Just to be clear, this is on the R and D side as distinct from the application?
Professor Silverman: Yes. This is work on forensics but it is on specific areas which the market is unlikely to deal with or where there are national security reasons for it to be done in-house.
Q248 David Morris: Do you think that forensic science is seen as a priority within Government? What evidence would you quantify to back that up if you do believe so?
Professor Silverman: The research councils do not, at present, see forensic science as a strategic priority. My understanding is that there are recommendations and suggestions I can make in my report which might encourage them to do so. It is not simply a matter of the research councils announcing that forensic science will be a strategic priority. It is a matter of the community. It is a matter of articulating. It is the users at the sharp end getting together and putting a case to the research councils for forensic science.
Q249 Chair : Mr Morris asked specifically about "within Government". Research councils are a little bit arm’s length.
Professor Silverman: Yes. Within the Home Office-I can’t speak for Government more widely, but the research councils are one part of Government-we see forensic science as something where we should spend some research money on specific areas. More widely, I don’t think there is specific funding of forensic science research as such.
Q250 David Morris: Do you think the closure of the FSS will leave an R and D vacuum in the UK?
Professor Silverman: The short answer has to be no, but let me explain why. A lot of R and D is going on in many different places. In the sense that other companies, some of which have given you evidence already, are equally involved in R and D, every scientific company in every area does R and D. This is going slightly outside the scientific remit to answer that question. If you ask the question, "Is there R and D in forensic science other than in the Forensic Science Service?", which is the question I would rather answer, the answer is definitely there is, yes. It is very interesting work.
Q251 David Morris: Do you think there should be a national ring-fenced R and D budget for forensic science? In your opinion, who should provide that funding?
Professor Silverman: Personally, I don’t think that national ring-fenced budgets are necessarily the way to go. I would much rather try and find ways of creating an environment where an area like this can naturally play its part and make use of existing funds. The minute you start with ring-fenced budgets, you have them all over the place. The point is that we need to find ways of funding science which are flexible and which can respond to excellence and opportunity. Ring-fencing budgets probably isn’t the way to do that. I’m not sure I am the person to ask, but that is my personal view.
Q252 Stephen Mosley: In the evidence that we have heard previously, one of the key concerns is the potential loss of forensic scientists with the closure of the FSS, either from the profession or from the UK. Do you share those concerns?
Professor Silverman: I don’t think I have enough information to comment. One of the issues is that in every scientific area there is always fluidity of a market-employees moving around. If we can create a good environment generally, that should help deal with that situation. I don’t specifically share those concerns but it would be sad if anything happened which meant that good work was no longer being done.
Q253 Stephen Mosley: How will you make sure that that doesn’t happen? How will you monitor the situation? How will you make sure that there aren’t any potential impacts on science?
Professor Silverman: I can’t make sure of those things. What is important to point out is that, to thrive, anyone operating in this market needs to have active research and development. Once that is pointed out, whoever is working in the area will make sure, I hope, that they support science in their area. Otherwise they are not going to succeed.
Q254 Stephen Mosley: You say, "I hope". How will you make sure that that happens? How will you measure it?
Professor Silverman: Measuring it is difficult. If you ask a company how much R and D they are doing, they will give you a sum of money. So one way of measuring it would be to monitor the research and development spend from within industry. As I have said already, monitoring within other parts of the landscape is more difficult to do.
Q255 Stephen Mosley: Mr. Rennison, what impact could the loss of skilled forensic scientists have on the quality of standards and on the criminal justice system?
Andrew Rennison: That is difficult to assess at the moment. My understanding of the picture is that we have a considerable number of very experienced scientists at the top level. There is quite a strongly held view out there, and it is a view I share, that there are probably too many of those because there was a recruitment freeze in the FSS for about 10 years. So we have built up a good deal of very experienced scientists. There was a bit of a gap behind them, but there are a lot more very experienced middle-service scientists coming up through the system now.
What is worrying me is where all these very experienced scientists will go. I have been speaking to the other commercial providers about this and there are mixed views. Some say that, to date, they have had no problems with recruiting those most experienced people-because they do need them-as mentors for the abundant number of more junior scientists that are left who do the majority of the desk or bench work. To date they have not had a problem with recruiting those most experienced scientists, but there is a concern, in the current climate, whether those people will stay or go. That is something I will have to monitor.
The flip side of that is the view that there are too many people at that level already. The commercial companies-you had Mr Richardson and David Hartshorne here, and I have certainly spoken to David and others about it-can operate very adequately with fewer numbers of those very experienced scientists because there are probably too many at the moment. But that has to be tested. The way to monitor that is through their accreditation and the quality standard frameworks they have.
Historically in the UK, we have tended to look at the assessment of individual competence of scientists as the measure of quality. That has missed two very important components. A very important component for me is the assessment of organisational competence. Is an organisation delivering forensic science-I mean the police service, the laboratories or any aspect of forensic science-competent to deliver that science and those forensic services? Part of that competence assessment through the UK Accreditation Service, which I am pushing for, is an assessment of your ability to have the right people with the right competence delivering the right work.
I have recommended to the Home Office and the NPIA that they now need to be speaking to the United Kingdom Accreditation Service so that as work moves from the Forensic Science Service, possibly, to other providers, the UKAS is invited in at a very early stage to make sure that those providers are able to manage the increases in volumes and have the staff and competence to do it. Their accreditation says that they have to so we monitor it through the accreditation framework.
Q256 Stephen Mosley: You are talking about people currently in the profession at the top of their careers. What about future people? We have had different angles from the evidence we have heard. When we talked to people from the private providers, they were saying they are looking at good scientists coming in.
Andrew Rennison: Yes.
Q257 Stephen Mosley: Do you think that changes to the FSS might put those scientists off going into the forensic sector?
Andrew Rennison: No, I don’t think so. There are plenty of other companies employing and recruiting forensic scientists. The interesting irony here is that an abundant number of people are coming through universities now either doing specific science courses or very specific forensic science courses. There is no shortage of people to recruit from and train up, and I don’t think there will be in the future. That is only the first stage in the process. You have then got to bring people into the organisation and train them as real forensic scientists. I don’t think it will cause problems. There is an abundant pool of very well educated people out there who are interested in the profession.
Q258 Stephen Mosley: Moving into a slightly different direction, you will remember we heard from Professor Jim Fraser.
Andrew Rennison: Yes.
Q259 Stephen Mosley: He said that there were too many people doing a lot of these forensic courses because what the companies actually want are people with good basic science skills who they can train in forensics. Yet, if we look at the figures, there are about 5,500 people currently studying forensics at university. Often these courses have been put on by the universities because they are popular and fashionable at the moment. Do you consider that there are too many people doing forensics as a subject rather than doing proper science subjects?
Andrew Rennison: I do speak to vice-chancellors and professors of forensics about this sort of thing quite often. If you struggle to fill your chemistry degree course nowadays, put the word "forensic" in front of it and you get tenfold applications. Forensics is very fashionable and it brings people in. I have heard one very experienced professor in this field saying, "What we are doing is immoral. We are offering people degrees and training with no real prospects of jobs at the end of it." However, it is putting people through good science training, and we do need more scientists. Many of the people who finish their forensics degrees go off and work in other industries. It is a mixed picture. We have to be very guarded that we are not making false promises to potential graduates that cannot be met but-and Bernard and I have discussed this-it is a good thing to have more science graduates. The country needs them.
Q260 Gavin Barwell: You acknowledged, in response to an earlier question, that the FSS is held in very high regard internationally?
Andrew Rennison: Yes.
Q261 Gavin Barwell: Will the closure affect the UK’s standing internationally in terms of forensic research?
Andrew Rennison: I deliberately made the comment earlier about the international picture with regard to research because we are at risk of wasting time, effort and money if we don’t collaborate on research. I collaborate very closely with my Australian counterpart. I am now collaborating with contacts in the US. We collaborate with the European Network of Forensic Science Institutes. We are drawing up a joint strategy with them because they are researching exactly the same issues we are researching. A good example of that is cognitive bias or cognitive effects in forensic science. At the moment there is research in America and across Europe and we want research done here. We need to collaborate on that and to draw that together.
The people I am meeting clearly hold the Forensic Science Service in high regard. Equally, they hold universities and other places around the world in high regard. The Forensic Science Service is not the sole source of good research, but they are held in high regard because they have been here. They have led on a lot of research over the years and done some very good work. My view is that they don’t leave a vacuum behind them. There are plenty of other people doing very good research around the world that is equally looked at and held in equally high regard.
Q262 Gavin Barwell: I want to pick up on that. You said that there are plenty of people around the world doing good research, not just in the UK.
Andrew Rennison: And in the UK, yes.
Q263 Gavin Barwell: I take your point about collaboration. That is true across many different scientific disciplines. Just to come back to my original question, do you think the UK’s standing internationally in forensic research will be affected by the decision to close the FSS?
Andrew Rennison: I think it will be dented. The simple fact is that if you close the FSS, which has represented the UK on the international stage, of course it will be dented. But there are plenty of other companies. LGC Forensics do a considerable amount of very good research. We have been to see it.
Professor Silverman: Yes.
Andrew Rennison: Orchid Cellmark does a considerable amount of good research. We are aware of some that is going on. All the other companies do. They are also on the international stage.
Q264 Gavin Barwell: This is a slightly different question. I am looking now at international comparators. Did the review consider models of forensic science and regulation of quality standards in other countries?
Professor Silverman: You say "did". We haven’t finished the review yet. Quality standards are not, themselves, part of the review. We are concentrating mainly on research and development and its relation to international networks. Our research happens on the international stage. In fact, we have had a submission from a university outside the country and so on. So we have heard from people there. But it is fair to say that we are not looking at mechanisms in other countries specifically.
Andrew Rennison: I can probably help you with that one. I look at models of regulation around the world and I compare the UK position very carefully with others across Europe. In terms of regulation and standards, the Australians probably lead the world at the moment. The UK is catching up fast. The United States is way behind us in terms of regulation and standards. It is a very mixed picture.
In terms of the models of supply of forensics, there is a multitude of different models out there, from the old traditional government forensic laboratory, to commercial laboratories and to police laboratories. They all have strengths and weaknesses. The trick for us nowadays is to take a long hard look at how modern forensic science works and how we should be providing it.
I recommend you read a very good book called The Handbook of Forensic Science written by Professors Jim Fraser and Robin Williams, which was published last year or the year before last. That provides a very objective and up-to-date analysis of the forensic markets and the use of forensic science nowadays. Chair, you are welcome to borrow my copy, if you want, because it is a very good read. In their book they talk about the shift of forensic science out of the traditional laboratory and much more to the coalface of policing. This is my experience as well. This is driven very much in the UK. I think the UK leads on this.
Q265 Chair : I am curious about your earlier answer, particularly about the United States. Isn’t it the case that the United States, who you described as "behind", are starting to emulate the service that we are about to close down?
Andrew Rennison: Laboratories across the United States tend to be owned by the investigating agencies. They have been through a thorough review of their forensic services through the publication of the National Academy’s report in 2009. The result of that is emerging legislation in the States which subscribes to the traditional laboratory model, but actually will be legislating for a standards framework very similar to the one that I want in the UK.
Q266 Gavin Barwell: Just picking up that point, it is the case, however, isn’t it, that the US is setting up the National Institute of Forensic Science? They are, essentially, moving to a model of the state-funded, pre-commercialised FSS alongside some of the other provision that they have.
Andrew Rennison: Yes. The Leahy Bill in the United States is in Congress. I was talking to the National Institute of Justice a couple of weeks ago about that. That is going to take about three years to work its way through and the funding for that is far from guaranteed, so there is a long road to travel yet. The Bill before Congress recommends this National Institute of Forensic Science with funding for research and to set standards. It doesn’t provide funding for the laboratories themselves but it provides funding for research and it provides funding to set up the standards frameworks that are needed. It also legislates for the type of accreditation framework that I want. It makes no comment about forensic science at the coalface, which is where we are very much in the UK. It is difficult to compare at the moment because there is a much more traditional model in the States that does not necessarily apply here.
Q267 Graham Stringer: When we had the FSS here they told us, if I can just follow up on Gavin’s questions, that, along with the FBI and Lausanne, they were considered the best in the world. The Dutch, the Germans and maybe some of the east Europeans are catching up. Were they selling us a story or is that accurate?
Andrew Rennison: It is accurate to a degree. They have been world players but the picture has changed in the last five years or so where the research has moved more to applied. It is a different kind of research. It is based on producing new products that will help the company benefit in the future. They have slipped from the pure research that they have been doing in the past to much more of an applied type of research.
I disagree with the notion that they are one of a tripartite of leaders in research across the world. There are many others involved. Bernard has seen some of that in his review. We have to respect what the FSS has done historically, but new people are emerging and new companies are investing in research. A good example is LGC Forensics, which are able to bring in a much broader bedrock of research, because they are a company with specialisms not just in forensic sciences but other sciences that are contributing to the forensic science research. We have been to their labs and seen it. They are a multinational company.
Q268 Graham Stringer: Can you give us examples because I am still left with a contradiction in the evidence? Where have LGC Forensics broken through? Where have they given a better service? Where have they solved more crimes? Where have they developed their research compared to the FSS?
Andrew Rennison: They have developed their own DNA methods which have helped solve crimes where, in the past, the FSS were not able to develop DNA profiles. They are producing a unique piece of equipment at the moment which will massively help the investigation at crime scenes in terms of DNA analysis and technology. That is now being assessed by the National Policing Improvement Agency as part of the Rapid DNA project. They undertake a considerable amount of chemistry research, which was demonstrated to us when we visited the labs.
Q269 Graham Stringer: Can I just pursue this a bit with Professor Silverman? You emphasised, at the start, that you were independent. I am pleased about that. But, having said you were independent, you said, "The Government have taken the decision that the FSS is to close so we are not looking at that research." That doesn’t strike me as the response of an independent scientist. You have got this and, whether it is declining or whether it is increasing, it has certainly had a history of excellent science. Yet you decide, because the Government says it, "I am an independent scientist but I won’t look at that and the contribution it can make." That strikes me as wrong.
Professor Silverman: Thank you for asking the question. I did not mean that I wouldn’t look at the FSS’s research; of course I’ll look at the FSS’s research and at all the other work that is going on. The question is about the parameters within which I am able to operate. I take it that my review and my terms of reference are to look at the research and development in the light of any decisions that have been taken. The decision for a managed closure of the FSS has been taken and I don’t think it is within my remit to challenge that particular decision.
We want to say, "This is the landscape. Now we are going to make sure that we look at the way that research and development should work given the landscape that exists." My understanding is that the decision about the FSS has to be taken for legal and commercial reasons, which I am sure have been explained and will be later, and that that is a done deal, essentially. That was not a scientific question. The important thing is to look at the research landscape, including work that has been done in the FSS, and see the way that that should develop best in the future.
Q270 Graham Stringer: But we have been told that the structure of organisations matters in terms of the research that is done. It is not just a chemist or a scientist at the laboratory bench pouring sulphuric acid into a test tube. It is the whole structure of the organisation.
Professor Silverman: It is the whole structure. That is absolutely right.
Q271 Graham Stringer: We have this organisation with a history. Yet, because the Government have taken a decision, you say, "I won’t look at that." I am afraid I see that as being both in contradiction to your claim that you are independent and to the fact that this does not affect the science. The evidence you are giving is contradictory.
Professor Silverman: What can I say? I have a clear view of the framework within which I am working. Maybe I haven’t expressed it. If I were to recommend that we should spend a billion pounds on research in an area, nothing would happen. It wouldn’t have any effect. The situation is that it has been decided that the FSS is going to run down. It is important that whatever the succession, however things move on from here, research and development should be given the best part in that future. There are many different mechanisms that work within markets where science is a part. The main thing is to make sure that forensic science gets the best shot in this. With respect, I don’t think my evidence is contradictory; I apologise if it has come over in that way.
Q272 Graham Stringer: I will leave it at that.
Mr Rennison, I want to mention ISO 17025. There is only one police laboratory-the Met-operating to that standard. Why are the other police laboratories not operating to that standard?
Andrew Rennison: Greater Manchester police now have a laboratory working to that standard for the examination of firearms. West Midlands police have a laboratory to that standard for the examination of firearms. Derbyshire police have a laboratory accredited for evidence recovery. I know of three other police forces going through the application process at the moment. The current situation in policing is that many police forces are actively looking at collaboration agreements in the provision of forensic science, which I think is exactly the right way forward. I am now very closely engaged with those collaboration projects where I can be. For example, I sit on the project board of East Midlands police. They actively want to pursue application for ISO 17025 for their combined laboratories. The same in the north-west is led by GMP in Cheshire-Cheshire have applied for accreditation for their laboratory-and the same in the Yorkshire forces as well, where they are combining.
Q273 Graham Stringer: I am wrong, then, if it is more than the Met. But the situation has still been allowed to develop where a lot of police laboratories are not operating to this level of the ISO 17025 standard. Why has that been allowed to develop?
Andrew Rennison: It does take time to achieve the standard. I have made it very clear to these police laboratories that that is the standard they should be working to.
Q274 Graham Stringer: What is the timetable for that? What is the schedule? When will they all be accredited?
Andrew Rennison: 42 police forces have fingerprint enhancement laboratories. That is traditional fingerprint development work that the police have always done. The European Framework decision says that they have until November 2015 to achieve accreditation for those. That is work that was very rarely done by the commercial laboratories. That was traditionally done in-house by the police. There is now a project, led by Deputy Chief Constable John Fletcher at Bedfordshire police on behalf of ACPO and the National Policing Improvement Agency, to get all those laboratories into accreditation. They have provided all the training and everything else and they are providing the toolkits to do that.
The Framework decision that I have quoted also requires that if your laboratory is undertaking any form of work in the build-up or in the analysis of DNA technology, that has to be accredited by November 2013. I am now doing some active work with the NPIA and various police forces to find out where that applies. That is a very clear deadline. My approach to this now is to liaise, first, with these collaborations that are building and to reach agreements on action plans with them to achieve the accreditation required and to undertake some risk assessments about what work can and should be done in the absence of that accreditation. I have the first visit to a police force laboratory to discuss that tomorrow.
Q275 Chair : Can I be clear? That accreditation covers not just the methodology that is applied in the laboratory but the quality of the laboratory itself.
Andrew Rennison: Absolutely.
Q276 Chair : The physical standards of the laboratory, then?
Andrew Rennison: Absolutely. Let me explain what 17025 achieves, because it is a standard and one that is adopted around the world. 17025 assesses a whole range of things, but these are the four cornerstones that are vital for me. First, that it assesses the organisational competence: "As an organisation, from the top level, do you take quality seriously? Does that filter down through? Do you build a good quality culture?" That is absolutely vital. We have missed a key point in the past by focusing on the individual scientist because a good scientist could work in a poor quality culture producing poor science. Secondly, it assesses the competence of the individuals. It has been slightly weak in that area so we are bolstering that through the implementation of the Integrated Competency Framework developed by Skills for Justice, and the police and the commercial labs have bought into that.
Thirdly, it assesses, importantly, the validity of methods. It sets requirements around validity so when UKAS-the United Kingdom Accreditation Service-do their assessments they will want to see clear evidence that you have tested and validated your methods. In my codes of practice, helped by Dr Jeff Adams who is sitting behind me, we have expanded on that quite significantly because we think that validation has got to be well and truly pinned down.
Fourthly, it assesses objectivity and impartiality. The standard demands that the laboratory is autonomous and is able to deliver impartial and objective opinion evidence.
Q277 Chair : The reason why I asked that question-I am sorry to interrupt you, Graham-was that we got a rather woolly answer from ACPO when we were pressing them about capital expenditure. For example, if you said that this room was not suitable to be used as a laboratory because its air extraction system was inadequate, and there are capital implications, one would have thought that the police would have known the numbers involved in that kind of transformation. We were a bit surprised that they couldn’t produce any numbers.
Andrew Rennison: The numbers in terms of police capital investment in laboratories?
Chair : Yes.
Andrew Rennison: I don’t know the answer to that. I do know where some laboratories are being built at the moment. The West Yorkshire forces have one, Thames Valley has one and the South Wales forces have one. There are a number of them around the country. My concern, Chair, is that those laboratories are up to the right standard.
Q278 Chair : You have no idea what the capital implications are?
Andrew Rennison: No, but I think that aligns with the need for robust business cases for those laboratories to be opened. There should be a central and thorough assessment of those business cases to make sure-
Q279 Chair : There could be an argument that that money might be better spent on policing, and putting some of the testing out to commercial contracts.
Andrew Rennison: It sits very closely alongside the debate about what modern forensics looks like. In modern forensics there has been a massive strategic shift since the late 1990s and early 2000s where, with the DNA investment programme, with the investment in AFIS-the Automated Fingerprint Identification System-and methods now, for example, of delivering finger marks into a laboratory and getting an ident within a day, we have removed the old-fashioned process which wrote all sorts of time delays into forensic science. Police forces now expect those decisions to be driving their investigations within hours or days.
Forensic science is a 24-hour business in this day and age. Gary Pugh, who gave evidence, has 40% of his staff on shift work to deal with the forensic science issues quickly and promptly. That has moved a lot of the work away from the laboratories. Better training, influenced by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and influenced by the Police Standards Unit in the Home Office, has driven up the quality of forensics at the coalface where you can have far more impact with what we call "forensic intelligence."
Forensics breaks down into the forensics that drives the investigation, which has got to be rapid, as opposed to forensics that supports the prosecution end value. I can quote you examples where that rapid technology can massively help inquiries. I am not sure we have the time to go into many examples, but there are many of them. That is driving the forensics much closer to the coalface where, perhaps, you do need laboratories and decision makers. You can’t be several days away, remotely, in a laboratory somewhere. You want the scientists there. More and more the police have those scientists driving the decision making, not necessarily with laboratories but certainly specialist advisers and heads of scientific support in police services, and helping really to squeeze the benefits out of fast forensic science, which is what we have.
There is a new model emerging where you will have more laboratories close to the coalface and I think it is well worth exploring whether those laboratories should be run by the commercial providers. I can see a real benefit in that in the future. So move the facility-still outsource it-where you can bring in all that expertise and support, but you can drive fast forensics.
Q280 Graham Stringer: That was genuinely very informative and useful information. However, can I take you back to the original point? When are all these laboratories going to be accredited? Are they all going to be accredited by the two deadlines that you told us about?
Andrew Rennison: There will be a whole range of activity, many of it before those deadlines. What I will be agreeing with individual police forces and these collaborations are action plans that I am comfortable with. I will agree individual deadlines with them. The absolute deadlines at the moment are November 2013 and November 2015.
Q281 Graham Stringer: Do you expect those deadlines to be hit by all laboratories?
Andrew Rennison: Yes, or they have to stop doing the work. It is as simple as that. We are going to do some risk assessments in the very near future about whether some of them should stop now.
Q282 Graham Stringer: That, again, is very good. Finally on independence, you said that one of the four legs of ISO 17025 was independence. In a world where the Crown Prosecution Service was set up following the fiddling of evidence by the police in the Birmingham Six case and others, shouldn’t these laboratories be completely independent of the police on principle?
Andrew Rennison: I don’t think that is necessary. A very good review is the recent Law Commission review around the admissibility of expert evidence, which was published two months ago. They have a very interesting section devoted to this issue of impartiality of expert witnesses-not specifically police experts, but experts across the piece, and in one paragraph they actually quote the police. They point out, quite rightly, that there are very few reported cases where impartiality has been an issue. They are recommending changes to the law built on an assumption that experts, and they include police experts in this, are impartial and understand their responsibilities to the court, which are very clearly set out now in the Criminal Procedure Rules. The evidence to date is that impartiality is not a massive problem in the criminal justice system, but I want to underpin that through accreditation.
Q283 Graham Stringer: With respect, people would have said that about police evidence before the Birmingham Six, wouldn’t they?
Andrew Rennison: But the Police and Criminal Evidence Act and many other things have changed since then. We do have a prosecution service-
Q284 Graham Stringer: The question I am asking is: isn’t this, if not a practical problem, the same philosophical problem-that they are not independent?
Andrew Rennison: I think that is a very interesting philosophical issue and you could end up discussing the whole philosophy of policing. The police are charged with investigating crime. That is how our system works. It is an accusatorial system. With modern forensics right at the coalface, they are always going to have a heavy influence on that. In my view, we need to do everything we can to make sure that that is independent and objective and withstands the scrutiny of the prosecution and the court process.
Q285 Stephen Metcalfe: On a point of clarification, the two deadlines you mentioned, 2013 and 2015, were for specific services, weren’t they?
Andrew Rennison: Yes.
Q286 Stephen Metcalfe: When do you see all forensic science conducted in the UK being conducted by accredited labs?
Andrew Rennison: You have to split forensic science into the crime scene forensics and the laboratory forensics. Those deadlines will cover the vast majority of laboratory forensics because, once you have your evidence recovery labs accredited, it is just a natural extension to include everything. It becomes the obvious thing to do and people do that across the board.
The big debate for me now is the crime scene standards. We are doing some pilot testing later this year. A new standard, ISO 17020, is being promoted-certainly across Europe, and I had some good discussions in America about this a few weeks ago-as the standard for crime scene investigations. It is all theoretical. It has never been used in practice. We will be the first to pilot that. I have three forces lined up to pilot it later this year with the United Kingdom Accreditation Service. We cannot set any dates on that yet because we have not run the pilots.
Q287 David Morris: Mr Rennison, you have been the Forensic Science Regulator for three years. Why have you no statutory powers to enforce compliance with quality standards?
Andrew Rennison: During the research phase leading up to the development of my role, Home Office officials spoke to many regulators and said, "What sort of regulatory model should we have?" The overwhelming recommendation from that was, "Avoid some sort of statutory model, if you can, because it tends to restrain you."
Before I did this job, I worked for the Gambling Commission regulating the gambling industry which was, in turn, regulated by the Gambling Act. We were very constrained by the legislation. The recommendation at the time was to go for light-touch regulation but with the regulator having the freedom to move into areas that he or she saw fit. I enjoy that freedom at the moment. For example, I have the freedom to say, "I’m not, at the moment, regulating forensic medicine, but I will do in a year or two’s time when I have the resources." We are now doing some brand new work with coroners to think about regulating non-forensic post mortems because that can feed into the criminal justice system. It gives us that ability to flex where we need to.
However, I am now reaching the conclusion that we have to seriously consider some sort of statutory underpinning of my role and some powers to mandate standards. Now that we have developed and consulted widely on the standards, it is entirely appropriate to consider whether we should be mandating those-bolstering the European regulations and translating that into domestic law with some sort of domestic powers to mandate standards-which picks up on your point very neatly, Mr Metcalfe.
I do some work in the CCTV regulatory field at the moment-I am working closely with the Home Office on this-and the model they are developing for the regulation of CCTV in the Protection of Freedoms Bill is giving some very good pointers, I think, to the model I should work to. You appoint a regulator, so there is a statutory underpinning of the role, you ask the regulator to produce codes of practice and conduct that, if required, can be agreed by Parliament and are then published by the Secretary of State-you go through that consultation process-and you list in there the people who have to have regard to those standards. You don’t need to take it any further than that. That is now an active discussion.
Q288 David Morris: In your written submission you stated that statutory compliance had not been necessary to date.
Andrew Rennison: Yes.
Q289 David Morris: But FSAC minutes show that you are considering legislation to strengthen your role. Did the impending closure of the FSS prompt this change?
Andrew Rennison: I wrote that submission after the announcement of the closure, and at that time-this is how fast things are moving at the moment-I was quite content with not having statutory powers. I have changed my mind since then because, as I engage more and more with some police forces and others, I am beginning to realise the need to have more muscle behind me to enforce some of this. I have to confess that I have changed my mind slightly since I gave you that written submission.
Q290 Stephen Metcalfe: Obviously, we all agree that accreditation is important and plays a vital part in this. How confident are you that all the current FSS workload will be transferred to fully accredited providers by the closure deadline of 2012?
Andrew Rennison: The most obvious risk to me in the closure of the FSS is the risk of taking work out of the FSS accredited environment. There is no doubt that the Forensic Science Service, since 1991, has led the world on the development of quality standards. They now have, by far, the broadest "scope of accreditation", which is the number of methods they cover in their accreditation. There is a real risk of taking work out of that broad scope of accreditation into a non-accredited environment. The way I describe that risk is that, in the accredited environment, you manage the risk of quality failings. You don’t eliminate it. You manage it down to low risk. You can’t inoculate against failures but you can manage the risk very aggressively.
If we take it out of that accredited environment to a non-accredited environment, the risk of something going wrong, I think, rises to very high. In the current environment you have a low risk but the impact is always high. You can never manage that impact down. The impact of a quality failing will always remain high. If you then take that work into a non-accredited environment, the risk shoots to high but the impact becomes very high because you haven’t got a leg to stand on, quite simply. I have written to ACPO, the NPIA and to the Home Office making that risk very clear. The result of that is agreements that the work will be moved to similarly accredited environments.
Q291 Stephen Metcalfe: Right. So there is an agreement?
Andrew Rennison: Yes. We have now got to work through the real detail of that, and I am going to be in at the heart of it. Some tricky decisions might have to be made. For example, if we move a piece of work out of the FSS into another laboratory which has a broad scope of accreditation, it might not have that specific method within its scope of accreditation. I need to look at the detail, but that is possibly a manageable risk, providing I see an action plan to get their scope extended to include that piece of work. That is a manageable risk compared to taking it to a non-accredited environment. So there is a bit of flexibility.
Q292 Stephen Metcalfe: I can see the distinction. You are confident, therefore, that there will not be a contamination or a degradation of the evidence as it is transferred out from the FSS into other providers? This is the integrity issue.
Andrew Rennison: If my views are adopted, then we prevent that.
Q293 Stephen Metcalfe: Good. That is great. What about the fragmentation of casework? How will the courts have faith that the exhibits have not been contaminated or tampered with?
Andrew Rennison: For me, fragmentation has been an issue long before the FSS and the announcement of the closure of the FSS. Complex inquiries nowadays involve far more than just the traditional laboratory forensics. You have, routinely, telephone analysis, computer analysis, cell site analysis and a range of other experts being brought in. It is very rare that all of that work is done by one provider. The police also do a lot of that in-house. They do the fingerprints and a lot of the computer forensics. If you read the Handbook of Forensic Science you will see that models have been built within the NPIA and police services to manage that, to have oversight of that, through their specialist advisers who now have a job to make sure all that work is brought together.
Similarly, through the National Forensic Framework Agreement, all the companies are bidding for all the work. The major providers are able to take on, broadly, the full range of work that the Forensic Science Service is able to do. The practical experience is that, where it is vital and where it is necessary, the work is not fragmented. It is sent to one provider. However, that is in the context of the broader picture where there always has been some fragmentation, but with methods to deal with it.
Q294 Chair : That last answer seems to indicate to me that you would be in favour of the protection of the archive in Birmingham as a single entity.
Andrew Rennison: For many reasons, I am. Perhaps I can close with one point, as time is running short. The discussions you have had here about the archive concern the case files in there. Very careful thought has to be given to what happens to those. An equally important issue for me is the many research papers and validation papers locked up in that archive which have never been published. They have to remain accessible and available. We might even look at opportunities for publishing some of those in the future. The archive covers a lot more than just case files. We must hang on to that information.
Chair : Gentlemen, thank you very much for your attendance this morning.
Witnesses: Mr James Brokenshire MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Crime Prevention, Home Office, and Stephen Webb, Director of Finance and Strategy, Crime and Policing Group, Home Office, gave evidence.
Q295 Chair : Good morning, gentlemen. I am sorry we are running a few minutes behind schedule. It has been an interesting session this morning. Minister, we know who you are. For the record, Dr Webb, would you introduce yourself?
Stephen Webb: Stephen Webb. I am the Director of Finance in the Crime and Policing Group in the Home Office. I am not actually a doctor.
Q296 Chair : Your title has changed in front of me. Minister, at what point did the Home Office decide to wind down the FSS and what evidence was it based on?
James Brokenshire: It became apparent, towards the end of September-October, that the FSS was in some considerable financial difficulties and that, in essence, its available cash would run out by the early part of this year-around January 2011. Presented with this very difficult situation with the FSS, we considered a number of options in terms of how best to address the situation. We came to an initial decision around November and then sought collective agreement before making the decision and the announcement that I did on 18 December.
Q297 Chair : So this was a financial decision?
James Brokenshire: The decisions that we took in relation to the FSS were largely commercially driven, but with the clear recognition of the impact and the overall role that the FSS plays in relation to forensics and the role that it plays for the police. It was largely a commercial decision, recognising the broader issues that arise here.
Q298 Chair : What other options did you consider and why were they ruled out?
James Brokenshire: There were, in essence, three principal options that were available. It is worth noting that the FSS is a GovCo. It is, therefore, subject to the Companies Act and various other legislative requirements and there were three options potentially available. In essence, the first option was allowing it to go into administration, which we immediately discounted because of the impact that would have on the criminal justice system and our fundamental desire to ensure there was integrity within the criminal justice system. The second option was some form of restructuring. In other words, to invest further to see whether there was a way of retaining the FSS in some form to be able to break even moving forward. The third option was, obviously, a wind-down arrangement, which was our ultimate preferred option in terms of dealing with the situation and taking things forward.
Q299 Chair : Why was the middle one ruled out?
James Brokenshire: It is worth talking about some of the evidence and issues that we looked at in the context of forming our decision. One important part of that was an assessment of the size of the market and what was expected to happen in the future. The estimate that we received, in terms of the size of the existing external forensic market, was around the £170 million to £160 million range and that was projected to reduce to around £110 million by the end of 2015. We looked at that and at the fact that every time the FSS had gone out to the market as part of the procurement framework, it had lost business-every time that it had sought to go out to the competitive market and when police forces tendered for the work.
Seeking to examine the issue of a reducing market with the FSS having a declining share of that market, we could not satisfy ourselves that, by investing what would be a significant sum of money, that sum of money would, potentially, be smaller than the revenue that the FSS would be receiving in that reduced situation. From a value-
Q300 Chair : Hang on a second. Some of this is funny money recycling round the Home Office. Money is being spent by police forces up and down the country in building laboratories and so on. Wouldn’t that money be better spent in purchasing services directly from a semi-autonomous operation rather than building their own?
James Brokenshire: If you are to harness some of the efficiencies and improvements we have seen in the forensics market, which have been garnered by virtue of the private sector coming into a more commercial market, you need to look at it against that backdrop in terms of seeing those improvements and the value for money and, I suppose, driving our decision that we feel that the external market is best provided on a fully commercialised basis.
Q301 Chair : But I asked you about police forces. The police forces themselves are spending significant sums of capital in building laboratories.
James Brokenshire: You are right. There has been some investment in relation to police forces and some of the work that they have been doing around, for example, triaging- the assessment of how best casework should be delivered and how best forensic testing should be delivered. But I think there is a distinction to be drawn between some of the internal work that the police are undertaking and the external market, going out and providing those services externally.
Our judgment was that that external market was best provided commercially, so that the police could then get more value for money and could see further improvements on the performance of the forensics providers, and that that was best addressed through a commercial situation rather than the situation that had preceded, where the FSS had been set up as a GovCo to move forward to a fully commercialised market but had got stuck. It had got half-way there but had then been left in limbo rather than fulfilling the original intention to move to that fully commercialised market. In many ways, some of the challenges and issues that we have had to address have been as a consequence of those initial decisions.
Q302 Chair : Did you consider shifting it from being a GovCo to another status within Government operations?
James Brokenshire: It is worth underlining some of the other constraints that exist, particularly around state aid and the state aid issues that prevail in relation to this, given that a semi-market has been established with around 40% in the pure private sector and around 60% residing with the FSS. Therefore, the Government has to act within that framework of state aid. It can’t simply continue to fund money on a pro tem-type basis. State aid requires us to look at a restructuring either to get to a break-even position or to some sort of liquidation position. Against that backdrop, seeking, perhaps, to nationalise it all over again was not an option that was attractive either from the commercial aspects that I have already talked to or, equally, the restrictions that exist around state aid.
Q303 Chair : Who exactly was consulted, both within the Home Office and externally, and what scientific advice did you seek?
James Brokenshire: As I have indicated, the issues and challenges that came up were, in many ways, of a commercial nature. Our discussions were focused on, obviously, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the NPIA and the policing sector. Equally, we did go out to the criminal justice sector to obtain their input in relation to the integrity of the criminal justice system. Obviously, the Home Office scientist, who has just given evidence to you, was notified in advance of the decision that was announced on 18 December.
Q304 Chair : But not the CPS?
James Brokenshire: The Crown Prosecution Service was engaged. They were consulted as part of this process. Clearly, the robustness of the criminal justice system is something that I hold very dear and we were very clear in ensuring that that was maintained in the decisions moving forward.
If you are looking at the three options that were presented to us, in essence, an uncontrolled administration was rejected on the basis of the impact that would have on the criminal justice system. Clearly, we looked at the issue of the restructuring and what that might mean but, ultimately, the broader commercial issues that were engaged meant that could not take place. Therefore we went to the wind-down. The CPS was engaged, via the Attorney-General, through the clearance processes in making sure that there was satisfaction across Government in terms of the decision that we took in relation to the wind-down.
Q305 David Morris: What is the estimated total cost of winding down the FSS to the taxpayer? Can you give both figures excluding and including the anticipated savings from closing the FSS?
James Brokenshire: You will be aware of the provision that has been made in relation to the third quarter accounts of the Home Office, previously published, which put £70 million into those accounts. That omnibus figure, as a provision, covers a range of issues and elements, including potential redundancy costs, property costs, interest payments, project costs and pensions. Clearly, that is a provision and we would certainly be working very hard to reduce that number, given that a lot of this relates to commercial negotiations with contracted parties. That is very much a provision at this stage in relation to the estimated costs during 2011-12.
Q306 David Morris: Thank you. Could you provide a breakdown of how the £70 million provision for the Crime and Policing Group, identified in the Spring Supplementary Estimates, will be spent?
James Brokenshire: The indication that I have given, and Stephen Webb may wish to supplement the answer I have just provided, is around those specific elements on pensions and property costs, given that you are looking at lease liability issues, potentially, and, obviously, redundancy costs. It is all those elements grouped together in relation to the £70 million that was included in the estimates. As I have indicated, we will be working, as part of the transition and the work moving forward with the programme, to seek to mitigate those potential contingent liabilities.
Stephen Webb: We took it as a prudent assessment of what we thought might be required. As the Minister says, there are a number of areas where negotiations are going on-for example, with the trustees of the pension fund. It is hard to break it down precisely at the moment. We would certainly be looking to come in below that sum if at all possible.
Q307 David Morris: Thank you. Minister, can you explain what "rescue aid" and "costs associated with the FSS transition" are for? How did you arrive at these figures, given that the transitional arrangements are still unclear?
James Brokenshire: The rescue aid payments that have been made are, in essence, to cover the costs of stabilising the FSS and to manage the operational losses incurred during the period of the wind-down-they are very focused on those elements-and also to cover the costs of a round of voluntary exits associated with urgent structural measures to stem loss-making activities. That is where the rescue aid-type funding has been focused in relation to those payments.
Q308 Chair : During this transition, the highest priority must be the integrity of forensic science. Are you geared up to the possibility, because it is a very complex transformation that is going on, that this could take longer than you have proposed, provided that you put forensic science at the top rather than the simple balance sheet issues?
James Brokenshire: I do take the issue of forensic science very seriously and I am very pleased that you have taken evidence from the Forensic Science Regulator and also Professor Silverman. Obviously, they will have talked specifically about the impact on forensics more generally, on the issue of research and development and innovation. It is clear that that R and D and that innovation resides not simply in the FSS but more generally in the private sector and that there is some important and good work that is being undertaken in the private sector.
When we analysed the timetable in terms of the statement that we made in relation, effectively, to the full wind-down of the FSS by spring of next year, we were careful in considering the reasonableness and appropriateness of that timescale. We have not been given any indication, to date, that that can’t be achieved, but, clearly, I will focus on this on a continuing basis.
Q309 Chair : Clearly, it can be achieved. You can close it tomorrow.
James Brokenshire: No, but achieved in a careful and measured way taking into account the interests of the criminal justice system, the interests of justice and also considering carefully, as I am sure you may well come on to, the availability of information for cold case reviews-in essence, all the information that is currently retained and held by the FSS in connection with previous investigations that they have undertaken. I am seized of that in the work moving forward in ensuring that there is integrity, confidence and assurance given around all of that, albeit, as I have said, the indications in achieving all of those aims, we believe, can be achieved by spring of next year.
Q310 Stephen Mosley: Moving on to look at forensics research and development, did you make any assessment of the likely impact of the FSS’s closure on forensic science R and D in the UK before you made the decision to close the FSS?
James Brokenshire: There was no formal assessment of the R and D elements as such but I was very conscious, in making this decision, of the potential impact on R and D. For example, if we had gone down the restructuring route, one of the things I was specifically concerned about was the fact that R and D investment would have been significantly squeezed as a consequence of taking that option rather than any other option. While there was no formal assessment, it would be completely wrong to characterise the decision as not considering or not taking account of the issues of R and D and future investment. Indeed, I am very conscious of that and that is why Professor Silverman has been engaged to conduct the review he is conducting at the moment.
We have seen that private companies are very much investing in research and development and innovation moving forward. Therefore, our expectation is that there will be increased investment in this field as the private sector’s share of the market continues to expand and grow as we move through that transition. That was very much our expectation and our consideration when the decision was taken to opt for the wind-down as contrasted with the restructuring, which were the only two realistic options on the table for us.
Q311 Stephen Mosley: When it comes to that Home Office review that is currently being undertaken, do you think it would have been sensible for that review to have taken place before the announcement on the FSS was made?
James Brokenshire: No. The reason I say that is that the FSS is only one part of this. You need to look at the academic institutions and at the investment that private companies and others are undertaking as well. Also, consider that we were presented with a situation where the FSS, as a consequence of the Companies Act, were saying to us that they were in a zone of insolvency and that they would be at risk of going into uncontrolled administration unless some form of action was taken by the Home Office, which would not have allowed a proper review, at that stage, of these issues. That is why I talk about this being a commercial decision. It was not that it was only focused on commercial issues, but it was driven by the fact that the FSS was presenting itself as being in a zone of insolvency and of physically running out of cash. That is why the decisions were taken in the way they were.
I see the review that Professor Silverman is undertaking, which will be coming forward shortly, as instrumental in setting out where forensic research is at the moment, how it may need to be better joined up and how we need to have a better understanding of that. But I see that as distinct from the decisions that the Home Office had to take in relation to the FSS, albeit that, obviously, the FSS does undertake some R and D investment work at this point in time.
Q312 Stephen Mosley: Essentially, you are saying that the current review will have no influence over the future of the FSS.
James Brokenshire: The review that Professor Silverman is undertaking is looking at the whole issue more broadly in the innovation economy, if I can describe it in those terms. We had to take a decision in relation to the FSS based on its financial position and that decision needed to be taken in pretty short order, given the position presented to us. In essence, the review that is being undertaken will be instrumental in shaping Government policy and the way in which our focus on forensics moving forward on the investment side will be further developed. In terms of the decision that we were forced to take in relation to the FSS as a company, as an entity, that needed to be taken in a much speedier fashion, taking account of the pressing business and commercial needs of that company at that point in time.
Q313 Stephen Mosley: The review is due to report within a few days, isn’t it? It is due to report by the end of this month. If the review’s findings indicate that the FSS should remain in one form or another, from what you have said, you would not be changing your policy on the FSS because of that.
James Brokenshire: You have taken evidence from Professor Silverman and, no doubt, he will have responded on some of these points. The review, as I understand it, and Professor Silverman is independent of me, is looking at the broader issues in relation to investment and the development of research and development around forensics wherever it may reside. Simply characterising this as, "The FSS can only provide this sort of innovation and R and D" is wrong. It is incorrect. That is not the basis on which innovation and R and D has taken place over the last few years with the commercial sector. As I have indicated, it is more about the continuing development of that work rather than the specific company or person who may be undertaking that work.
I want to see forensics further developed, further flourishing and further enhanced so that our police forces and the criminal justice system can benefit from that. I am quite sure that Professor Silverman’s review will provide some very helpful and useful information in that connection.
Q314 Stephen Mosley: I certainly hope so. It is due within the next week or so. How long will it then take you, as the Government, to respond to that review and give your thoughts on it?
James Brokenshire: I think, Mr Mosley, that that will depend on what it says. Therefore, I wouldn’t want to pre-judge in any way. I will certainly give you an assurance that we will consider it carefully and properly because the use of science in the development of our policy and the availability of enhanced scientific techniques is an essential part of the continuing development of our work. I very much look forward to and anticipate his review. We will consider it extremely carefully and act in an appropriate way in terms of taking that forward.
Q315 Gavin Barwell: I want to go beyond the specific decision to close the FSS. I want to start by asking you a general question. What is the Government’s strategy for forensic science?
James Brokenshire: As I have indicated, Mr Barwell, our view is that the external forensic provision to the police and the criminal justice system should be on a fully commercialised basis. We believe that significant benefits have already accrued to the police and the criminal justice system as a consequence of that in terms of efficiency savings and almost equally, if not more importantly, in relation to enhanced performance, reliability and driving up standards. Our approach is very much about ensuring that we have a fully commercialised market around forensic provisions for the criminal justice system. That is at the heart of our approach and underlines the decisions that we have taken in relation to the FSS.
Q316 Gavin Barwell: Who are forensic science providers providing a service to? Who is the client?
James Brokenshire: I know that this is a question which has come up in your previous deliberations, whether the client is the criminal justice system or someone else. On a contracting basis, the immediate customer is the police as part of the National Forensic Framework Agreement or other contractual provision for the provision of those services in the external market. Ultimately, it is not in isolation. It must have that clear eye to the broader criminal justice system. The information provided and the reliability of the evidence provided clearly points to the courts. Therefore, while the contracting party is the relevant police force, it cannot be viewed in isolation. It has to be viewed in the context of the integrity of the provision of forensic services to where they will ultimately be used, which is in the justice system and the courts.
Q317 Gavin Barwell: Do you see any tension between those two? The Forensic Science Northern Ireland stated in their evidence to us: "There are two very different customers for any forensic science provider; the police, who want fast low cost support to their investigation and the Courts, who are inherently cost-blind and want very robust, independent and objective expert witness in support of justice, whether that means conviction or acquittal." Do you agree that there is a tension or do you not see that?
James Brokenshire: No, I don’t see a tension per se. If you consider, for example, the issues around fingerprints, which are largely undertaken by police forces internally in terms of fingerprint analysis, and the way in which police staff are able to present information robustly and clearly in relation to fingerprint analysis before the courts, which is used as a matter of course, there have not been any clear tensions or issues. Obviously, the CPS is seized of that. We have not received any indication from them that they have concerns about the way in which we are approaching the wind-down of the FSS as part of this. Clearly, as part of the Forensics Transition Board, which is managing the wind-down process, and the Forensics Transition Advisory Group, which sits alongside that, there is representation from the CPS and other important stakeholders within the criminal justice system. As a result, we can continue to monitor this and receive that feedback should there be any emerging issues.
Q318 Gavin Barwell: Finally, how do you co-ordinate forensic science strategy with the Ministry of Justice and stakeholders outside the police? Obviously, the police sit within the responsibilities of the Home Office. In terms of engagement with the Ministry of Justice and with other stakeholders outside the police service, how do you co-ordinate that?
James Brokenshire: As I said, in terms of how we are managing this process, the Forensics Transition Board is leading the approach around the key decisions, very much informed by the Forensics Transition Advisory Group which includes all of the broader stakeholders-Professor Silverman being one of them-as well as the CPS and others. That is the governance structure that we have put in place to manage, at this important time period, this significant programme of work so that there is that formal way in which information, concerns and issues can be provided as part of our implementation of this work to ensure there is a mechanism for hearing concerns and issues as they may arise.
Q319 Chair : On this issue of the customer, can you think of any other area of Government procurement where the customer changes so fundamentally-in fact across to another Department? Initially, as you say, the customer is usually the police force, but, subsequently, the customer becomes the Ministry of Justice.
James Brokenshire: That arrangement is part and parcel of the criminal justice system that we have. The CPS works in conjunction with the police, with the Director of Public Prosecutions being linked in through that. While there is the issue of residing in, potentially, two different Departments, there is the join-up and understanding between the relevant agencies involved that their work can’t be in isolation. That is the nature of policing. Policing, if it does its job, will automatically feed through to the criminal courts.
Q320 Chair : The reason I ask is that one of the things we need to consider is whether the unusual nature of that relationship requires something other than simply a commercial decision.
James Brokenshire: Yes, I understand your consideration around that. It is not simply commercial considerations, as such, but how the police operate and the way in which the National Forensic Framework Agreement operates, which has had input from the criminal justice system and the CPS in terms of how that has been established and worked through. Clearly, it does have that broader read-across and that understanding in terms of the nature of the services being provided. I would not wish to give the impression that it is wholly in some isolated place. It is looking at that issue of evidence in that broader sense.
Q321 Stephen Metcalfe: We all agree that it is very sad for the FSS that it was not able to transform itself rapidly enough and that the envisaged market did not develop in the way, probably, it had been thought. Do you think that market, in the early days, should have been better regulated to ensure that the police in-sourcing did not damage the commercial prospects of the FSS or, indeed, commercial providers?
James Brokenshire: Perhaps I take a different view in relation to this. The FSS’s challenges were that it was set up as a GovCo with the intent of establishing some sort of private-public partnership or moving to a fully commercialised basis. But it got stuck. It had an inherently high cost base attached to it which fettered its ability to compete when new contracts became available through the National Forensic Framework model and, consequently, continued to lose business every time a police force or a region came through seeking to procure its services. I would characterise that as being the weakness rather than issues on in-sourcing or the challenges around that. It was largely that the FSS was not, perhaps, in the right state and condition to be able to compete in an increasingly competitive market. Therefore, structurally, those issues were, in some ways, the impediment.
As you say, everybody is sad that the FSS has not been able to develop in the way that, certainly, I would have wished if I had been there at the time. I was not. That was a decision taken under the previous Government. But it is the reality of where the FSS ended up and, perhaps, how this had not been thought through-the issues of where it was intended to go, that somehow it did get stuck and that it did not move forward in terms of the development of the market and enabling the FSS to flourish within it. That is why we have had to sort out a number of the problems that we are doing now.
Q322 Stephen Metcalfe: We have talked about the fact that the market is declining or the amount of external spend by police forces is declining, potentially, to £110 million. Do you think that the in-sourcing has created that volatility within that market?
James Brokenshire: Clearly, savings have been achieved by virtue of the market itself, and some of those reductions can be attributed to that. When we talk about in-sourcing, we are talking about a mixture of things, with the police, perhaps, being more focused on the nature of the forensic services they are seeking. It is not necessarily them being provided internally or externally but assessing, more effectively, what forensic services are needed in a particular case. The interrelationship between police-provided internal services as against police triage and assessment of their forensic need, whether that be external or internal, as well as the provision of services in the external market, is a complex position. There is a fair degree of complexity around this and I would not necessarily point to one issue being more significant than any other. There is a range of factors that all interrelate here. I would not necessarily place the greatest amount of weight on any one of those specific factors.
Q323 Stephen Metcalfe: We have discussed who the client is, the police or the criminal service, and we want to make sure that their forensic science needs, whichever one it is, are fully met. Do you believe that a wholly market-led approach can deliver all their needs?
James Brokenshire: It is not me saying that. It is the police saying that. The decision we took was very much informed by the views of the Association of Chief Police Officers, and when we were considering the options available in respect of the FSS, that was one of the key questions. We asked them whether they were satisfied that the relevant services could be provided in the market and the time scale for transition to that commercialised market. The clear view from ACPO was that it could be. It was not me making that assessment in isolation. It was very much informed by the views of the Association of Chief Police Officers in terms of examining that.
Q324 Gavin Barwell: What influence does the Home Office have over what the police spend their budgets on?
James Brokenshire: Clearly, we set the overall budgets for individual policing, but it is for individual police forces to make the determinations as to their need. Certainly from the Home Office, we don’t see it as our role to micro-manage police spending in relation to the activities of the police.
Q325 Gavin Barwell: If some of the major police forces decided that they wanted to increase significantly the level of forensics work they carried out in-house, you wouldn’t have a problem with that?
James Brokenshire: We are looking carefully at the issue of mandation. On this issue, it is the collaboration between police forces as to whether they are best able to harness their resources and work together more effectively. Certainly, efficiencies have been delivered and can continue to be delivered by that approach. We will continue to consider forensics in that context. We made the decision not to use mandation at this point in time, given the nature of the forensics transition work around the FSS, mandating, for example, that all police forces should go out to the National Forensic Framework Agreement. It is something that we will continue to keep under review, moving forward, in terms of the utilisation of mandation to see that police forces are harnessing moneys effectively in that context. It is in that mandation framework, which has been allowed and permitted on the way in which the police service procures certain contracts and services and facilities to itself, that that may arise. It is potentially available, albeit it is not something that we are intending to use at this point in relation to forensics.
Q326 Gavin Barwell: Can you give the Committee an idea of the scope of those mandation powers? You are saying that you are not at the moment considering using them, but what powers would you have should you choose to use them? What does it allow you to do?
James Brokenshire: On mandation, the Government will decide whether to proceed with the services regulations that we have. The effective mandation could be, for example, that nothing bought in the market in the future by the police could be undertaken outside of the National Forensic Framework Agreement that is being delivered. That would prevent in-sourcing of anything bought in the market that is available through the National Framework. Regulations could be amended in the future, for example, to address successor frameworks when the current National Framework expires. It could be used in that way. It is something that we will continue to keep under examination. At this point in time, with the transition of the arrangements with the FSS-the transition that is taking place-now is, perhaps, not the time to be using that.
Q327 Gavin Barwell: You said in your written statement of 14 December that you decided to support the wind-down of the FSS because your firm ambition was that there would be no continuing state interest in forensics provision. Isn’t the reality that we have quite a significant state interest in forensic provision through the police service and that that has grown?
James Brokenshire: I think what that was intending to point to was in relation to the external market. As I have clearly indicated, the desire is to move to a fully commercialised external market for the provision of police forensic services. If there is some slight inelegance in the wording of that language, that is what it was very much intended to point to, recognising that there are-I have already talked about fingerprints-forensic capabilities that reside within the police service itself that have worked quite effectively over the years. Therefore, in itself, that should not be taken to say that we are looking to strip everything out of the police in that manner. There will always be a balance to be struck between the two.
Q328 Gavin Barwell: Isn’t there some intellectual confusion here? The internal market grows, and that is clearly one of the factors that has led the FSS to get into the difficulties that it has, and the Government takes the decision to wind down the FSS. It wants a genuine market but it doesn’t want to do anything about the state provision that is growing which has led to part of the problem, or at least has contributed to the problem. It hasn’t wholly caused it.
James Brokenshire: As I say, and as I said to Mr Metcalfe, this is a very complex arena in terms of the interrelationships between the two. When the commercial market is allowed to flourish properly and effectively, as we intend with the wind-down of the FSS, it will drive further efficiencies and underline the quality and assurance which can be obtained through the private market. That, itself, will have an important part in what I would potentially see as outsourcing in the future, the market clearly demonstrating to police forces that that is a very effective and cost-efficient way of delivering. Certainly, that is what I hope will happen as we move forward.
Q329 Gavin Barwell: I have two final questions. Have you had any concerns from private sector forensic providers about the size of the internal market and changes in the size of the internal market?
James Brokenshire: Not as far as I am aware. Clearly, we want to see a successful and flourishing external market for providers that is robust and able to deliver on our intentions. That is one of the issues we have in terms of the drivers that the Forensic Transition Board looks to in relation to the health of the market moving forward, given the interest that we have in the criminal justice system and ensuring that that is robust and delivers on what we intend it to-on further innovation and on further quality standards, on that provision to the criminal justice system. I am sure that there will be points that may be made. Indeed, you may have received some points yourselves. It is something that we are examining carefully and are keeping under close review as part of the transition work.
Q330 Gavin Barwell: Let me end on that point. You said, earlier on in your evidence, that the advice you were given back in September-October was that the external market was of the order of £160 million to £170 million, but was projected to decline to £110 million by 2015.
James Brokenshire: Yes.
Q331 Gavin Barwell: We have received evidence during this inquiry that a decline of that scale has already happened in the current financial year. You are keeping this under close review. What is your current estimate of the size of the external market?
James Brokenshire: That is certainly not our assessment or the assessments that we have received in relation to the state of the current market. The most recent estimate that I have received through the NPIA indicates that the market is around £138 million in the last completed financial year. We don’t see it as having reduced down to the £110 million figure that I had indicated. That was more towards the 2015 number that was what informed and helped us in terms of the decision that we took in relation to the wind-down decision.
Stephen Webb: The £170 million was a 2009-10 estimate.
Q332 Gavin Barwell: If it has gone down by £20 million to £30 million before any of the reductions in police-public expenditure kick in, that might suggest that the £110 million figure for 2015 might well be significantly less than that.
James Brokenshire: It would be wrong to speculate around that. We can only work to the information that we have received from PWC and HMIC, who looked at this at that point in time. Clearly, efficiency savings have been made by the police. The way in which they are procuring services is quite clear. I don’t necessarily see it in the way that you have characterised it.
Q333 Chair : You don’t want to micro-manage police budgets. That is understood. Nevertheless, you have approved a series of police budgets as a Minister. Have you totted up the total amounts in those budgets that you have approved for allocations for capital expenditure on forensic science in-house laboratories?
James Brokenshire: Again, the way in which capital expenditure is allocated between police forces does not have that level of granularity, if I can describe it in that way. In essence, funds are made available to individual police forces and then it is for the police forces, in conjunction with police authorities, to determine their own budgets in that regard as to how they spend their capital and revenue. Obviously, I have talked to the reserve powers in relation to mandation on the potential procurement of services externally. Certainly, reserve powers exist in terms of seeking to encourage and promote collaboration between police forces.
Q334 Chair : If I was a commercial provider and I was going to bid for the services that are now provided by the FSS, how on earth could I be certain of the state of the market when the Minister himself hasn’t got a clue how much work is going to be taken in-house by police forces?
James Brokenshire: The point, Mr Miller, is that that is the way in which the National Forensic Framework Agreement operates at the moment with commercial providers already providing those services.
Q335 Chair : I understand that. Can’t you see that it does provide a fundamental problem from the perspective of a potential commercial provider?
James Brokenshire: No. What I would say to that is this. The police, who are looking at value for money and at the effectiveness and quality of the services that are being provided, will look to the private sector to assist them in delivering on this. As I say, I think the commercial market will ultimately lead to greater outsourcing in terms of the way in which these issues are provided. It would be wrong for the Government to fix the market in some way, given there are a range of different variables that would operate in this way.
Chair : Let us look at the police a little more closely.
Q336 Graham Stringer: Let me go back to your answer to Andrew . I find it incredible. Are you really s aying that the Home Office doesn’ t have the capital expenditure plans of individual chief constables and police authorities?
James Brokenshire: We will be provided with information, but ultimately it is for those police forces to make those decisions.
Q337 Graham Stringer: I understand the difference between control and information, but you do have the information, don’t you, on the capital expenditure on police laboratories?
James Brokenshire: I am happy to investigate further in relation to this and provide the Committee with what information we have around this detail, but my clear understanding is that it is for police forces to determine how they spend their capital expenditure and how they utilise that. I don’t think I can add anything further to that.
Q338 Graham Stringer: I understand where the responsibility lies, but I also know that all police authorities and chief constables provide you with that capital expenditure. Given that, clearly, from your previous answers, you have read this Committee’s previous deliberations, I am surprised that you have not come here with that information.
James Brokenshire: Mr Stringer, I hear the point that you have made. But I would say that it is for individual police forces to determine how they spend that.
Q339 Graham Stringer: That is not answering the point, with respect. Secondly, the issue is not as complicated as you say it is, is it? Police forces have changed from being customers of the FSS to being competitors. They have taken work in-house. They have taken this work in-house without proper quality control. Why has that been allowed to happen?
James Brokenshire: You could ask that question of previous Ministers in relation to the decisions that were taken and arose at this time. The Forensics Regulator is there, who you have taken evidence from earlier in this session, and is working very closely with the Association of Chief Police Officers to ensure that there is that quality assurance. Let us not forget that it is in the interest of the police as well to ensure that evidence is provided to the appropriate standard. It would not be in their interests, in the surety of the way that the police operate or, indeed, in the way the criminal justice system operates, for that not to be the case. As I have already indicated, in relation to issues like fingerprints that has operated quite well.
Q340 Graham Stringer: So you are not concerned about this proliferation without proper quality control as the Minister responsible? That was the question.
James Brokenshire: Of course I am concerned to ensure appropriate quality is maintained-that is why I have the relationship with the Forensics Regulator that I do-and how the Forensics Regulator is working with ACPO to ensure that relevant laboratory standards are undertaken. That is why I will certainly be guided by him, very clearly, in relation to concerns that he may have over quality standards in ensuring that, in fulfilling my role, the criminal justice system can rely on the information being provided through that route.
Q341 Graham Stringer: The FSS, as I understand it, is complying with ISO 17025 and many of the police authorities are not. While you say you are concerned about standards, are you concerned about that? Are you concerned about the impartiality of the police providing their own forensic evidence?
James Brokenshire: As I have indicated in relation to ISO 17025, the Forensics Regulator is working very closely with the Association of Chief Police Officers to ensure that accreditation standards are developed further. Indeed, I am sure you will have raised this issue previously with the representatives of ACPO who appeared before this Committee. I know how seized they are in connection with the issue. Also, the Crown Prosecution Service has a key role to play in relation to this. Again, they are very much part of the process that we have developed in relation to the transition arrangements. If there are concerns that emerge from the CPS, which has a direct interest and a direct stake in ensuring that information provided to their prosecutors is robust, can be relied upon and will deliver on that sense of justice, then certainly we will act on it.
Q342 Graham Stringer: Is it time to give the Forensic Science Regulator statutory powers?
James Brokenshire: It is something that I am certainly prepared to consider. The Forensics Regulator has operated, to date, without statutory authorisation and has operated very effectively in that way. But it is something I am prepared to consider if Mr Rennison feels he is not able or is coming up with issues in terms of his ability to deliver on his requirements in relation to standards and quality and giving the assurance that we want him to give.
Q343 Graham Stringer: Are you confident that all of the FSS’s current work will be transferred to fully accredited providers by the deadline of 2012?
James Brokenshire: We are confident that the deadline of 2012 can be achieved and that it can be undertaken in a way that does give the necessary assurance. That is why the Forensics Regulator is part of the advisory group we are engaged in and that is why we are undertaking it in the time scale that we are and in the manner in which we are. Having that robust approach in relation to the criminal justice system and giving the assurance that, rightly, Mr Stringer, you are pushing me on is something I am very conscious of in fulfilling my duties as a Minister in relation to the criminal justice system so that the courts and those who use the forensics that are developed can rely on that in that way.
Q344 Graham Stringer: What I am trying to get at with that question is this. Will all the work be transferred to accredited providers or will some of the providers be police laboratories that are not accredited?
James Brokenshire: If I can put it this way, there are various different options that are potentially available in relation to transition which we are obviously developing in parallel. They are, potentially, in-house provision that some police forces may be looking at. It is worth noting that a number of laboratories are accredited to ISO 17025. The Metropolitan Police and Derbyshire constabulary are certainly two of the laboratories that are accredited. Potential options exist there. There is, obviously, the National Forensic Framework Agreement, in other words, procuring services in the external market, as well as potential options for acquisition of the business and assets, or part thereof, of the FSS. Obviously, the FSS’s laboratories are accredited in that way.
In terms of the three potential options available as to how the existing FSS business or the revised business and the needs of the police are procured and provided, those are the three specific routes being adopted as well as the broader work that ACPO and the Forensics Regulator are engaged in on looking at those existing police laboratories that may be currently utilised in ensuring they are properly accredited. That is not to say that the work being undertaken is not appropriate or reliable. It is giving that assurance externally that ACPO and the Forensics Regulator are understanding.
Q345 Graham Stringer: So some work might go to non-accredited laboratories?
James Brokenshire: In terms of the work that is engaged at the moment, we are focused on the National Forensic Framework Agreement and the potential for asset sales. Obviously, some work may go to the police internally. My strong intention and desire is that that should give assurance and be robust in terms of the way in which this is delivered. There is no reason to suggest that will not happen.
Q346 Graham Stringer: I agree with you that we are all concerned to make the criminal justice system work as effectively as we can. How did you assess what the impact of closing the FSS would have on the criminal justice system? What evidence did you look at?
James Brokenshire: We consulted with the Ministry of Justice and the Attorney-General’s Office in connection with the decision that was taken and listened carefully to whether concerns were identified as part of that. There was agreement to the approach that was taken. We are taking that work forward now in terms of the Forensics Transition Board and the advisory group that sits alongside it to ensure that issues relating to the criminal justice system are properly addressed.
Q347 Graham Stringer: What evidence did you look at?
James Brokenshire: As I have already indicated, Mr Stringer, the decisions that were taken around the wind-down versus any other options were driven by commercial issues, looking at the financial position of the FSS and the issues in relation to the market. Any decisions that we took were in the framework of considering the potential impact on the criminal justice system.
As I have already said in response to a previous question in relation to Mr Miller, we immediately discounted, for example, the approach of going into some sort of unmanaged administration precisely for the reasons as to the concerns we would have on the integrity and support to the criminal justice system. It is not that it is a question of evidence as such. It was an analysis on the potential issues and ensuring that the criminal justice system could be assured and maintained in whatever process we moved forward with. That was very much at the heart of the decision that we took.
Q348 Graham Stringer: I understand that and I find it quite worrying, really. You read the transcript of the evidence that we took on 23 March, did you?
James Brokenshire: I have looked at some of the evidence but maybe not specifically at the point that you are seeking to talk about.
Q349 Graham Stringer: Dr Tully is in charge of research and development at the FSS and it is her evidence I am concerned about. This is at the heart of whether the criminal justice system works or not. I asked her whether this change meant that more rapists and murderers were likely to get away with things. She gave two examples, which I can read out, if you like-one was a cold case example and one was a current case-where the police had failed with the forensic evidence. It had come to the FSS, they had sorted the problem and people had been convicted quite quickly. That worries me because that looks to me like pretty solid evidence this change might mean that cold cases won’t be investigated and current cases will not reach the right conclusion of guilt.
James Brokenshire: Absolutely not. If that was a concern you had, that is very much part and parcel of the issues that I have, front and centre, in terms of the way in which we are managing this process and the surety that I am seeking as part of the manageable wind-down approaches. There is no reason to suggest that the private sector providers would not be able to deliver on precisely those services that you are, I think fairly, drawing to both my consideration and the Committee’s consideration.
It is worth highlighting that, in the past, the FSS itself has had some quality issues. There have previously been situations where private sector companies had been brought in to look at the work of the FSS. It is more looking at issues of quality and assurance than any one specific provider. I am very clear in the way in which I and the Home Office are approaching this issue of ensuring that the criminal justice system and the police have the forensic capabilities and capacity available to them to meet their needs and requirements.
Q350 Graham Stringer: In support of the two examples that Dr Tully gave, she talked about the problem of fragmentation of expertise and casework being disrupted if the FSS did not exist. Do you think that Dr Tully is wrong about that?
James Brokenshire: That is certainly not the indication we have received from the CPS or, indeed, the evidence that you received from ACPO in relation to the way in which cases are managed. There is no reason to suggest that there will be greater fragmentation as a consequence of the changes that we are seeking to introduce.
Q351 Graham Stringer: So you really don’t think that there will be a disruption of the continuity of criminal cases?
James Brokenshire: I do not see that as part of the risk based on the information that I have received. Clearly, the evidence that I received from ACPO-and, indeed, the evidence that you received-gave assurance that the way in which cases are managed would not lead to that. If you look at the National Forensic Framework Agreement that already exists in the 40% of the market that is already wholly in the private sector, that does not tend to point to the type of risks that are perhaps being alluded to, albeit that it is an entirely fair point for you and others to make and to seek assurance on.
Q352 Chair : I would certainly invite you to read the evidence from Roger Coe-Salazar from the CPS because he specifically expresses the concern that Mr Stringer has just spelt out.
That leads on to the final questions. One clear factor, which we dealt with earlier on this morning , in protecting the i ntegrity of the work of the FSS is that one of its key assets is the archive. Is it your view that the archive needs to be protected and developed as a single entity?
James Brokenshire: It is a key part of the work strand that we are engaged around on the most effective use of the existing archive and, indeed, broader work on archiving more generally in relation to forensics. I am open-minded at this point in time as to whether that best resides in one receptacle or whether it can be provided in a different way in different places.
Q353 Chair : If any fragmentation of that archive were, potentially, to put at risk the capacity of the broader service to deal with, say, for example, cold cases-
James Brokenshire: I am very alive to this issue of cold cases. That is why I am seeking specific guidance and advice and giving careful consideration to this point in relation to securing that archive and ensuring information is available for cold case reviews. It is absolutely essential that it is available in a joined-up way. I will look very carefully and closely at the evidence and advice that is given to me in terms of the best way to achieve that. It is something that I am particularly seized of as part of this process. This enables us to look at this issue more generally as well.
Q354 Chair : Finally, could you give us a brief update on what has been decided thus far by the Transition Board?
James Brokenshire: I did write out to police forces and police authorities fairly recently in respect of the work to date and the steps that were being taken. I could read you through on the next steps and time scales, but it may be more sensible for me to provide the Committee with a copy of the letter that has been sent out to police authorities, commissioners, etcetera. That should provide you, Mr Miller, if I may suggest, with a good chronology of the work that is being undertaken. Perhaps that would be the best way of addressing this, rather than rapidly trying to canter through in an oral evidence session.
Chair : That would be helpful. Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time this morning. It has been very instructive.
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